Episode 6: The Finishing Touch

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The meaning of the finishing touch is a final detail or action completing and enhancing a piece of work. Today I am going to tell a story of how the finishing touch enhance the work from the book LiDaiMingHuaJi历代名画记. ZhangSengYou张僧繇(yóu ) is a famous artist in the Northern Dynasty 南朝, from the year 420 ~ 589. He painted four dragons in the Temple Anle安乐寺in JinLin 金陵. Strangly he never drew eyes for the dragons. People got confused and asked him why. He always replied, “ if I did draw the eyes, the dragons would fly away.” Of course, nobody believed him and thought he was crazy. In the end, in order to show people he was serious, he drew eyes for one of the dragons and after a little while, that dragon became alive and flew away into the clouds. People around were shocked and when they looked back the other three dragons without eyes were still on the wall. What a legendary artist! The dragons were so real that if he put extra details on them they would actually come to life. The moral of this story is that don’t give your robots an extra part of intelligence cause they might take over the world.


This reminds me of another story from the book ZhanGuoCe战国策, which contains anecdotes of political manipulation and warfare during the Warring States period 战国时期, from 5th to 3rd centuries BC. There was a nobleman in the kingdom of Chu 楚国. One day, after worshiping his ancestors, he awarded a bottle of wine to his servants. These servants discussed about how they should share the wine. Since a bottle was not enough for all of them but a little more for one person, they decided that they would have a competition of drawing a snake. Whoever finished first would get the wine as a prize. One of the people finished really fast. When he was holding the wine in his left hand, he said “I still have enough time to add feet to the snake” and began to draw with his right hand. However, before he finished the feet, another person had completed drawing and snatched the wine from him and said,” A snake does not have feet. Why do you add feet to it? I won!” and drank the wine immediately. The person who added feet lost the wine. This is definitely not the best finishing touch. This idiom drawing a snake with feet 画蛇添足refers to spoiling things by doing things unnecessary. Sometimes more is less. For sure adding eyes to dragons is not unnecessary, but it is dangerous!



历代名画记 LiDaiMingHuaJi

张僧繇 ZhangSengYou

南朝 Northern Dynasty

安乐寺Temple Anle

金陵 JinLin

战国策 ZhanGuoCe

楚国 kingdom of Chu

画蛇添足 drawing a snake with feet

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